No More Unfair Drug Testing at Work                   Posted: Friday, 14 June 2013


The Supreme Court of Canada just upheld important restrictions on management rights in an appeal by the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) against Irving Pulp and Paper and reinforced the importance of collective bargaining in balancing the interests of workers and their employers.

A union grievance had challenged the employer’s unilateral, mandatory and random alcohol testing policy. Under the policy, 1 in every 10 employees in select positions were to be randomly chosen for breathalyser testing.

The Supreme Court ruled an employer can test an individual worker in a dangerous workplace if there is reasonable cause.  This said, a “dangerous workplace” alone is not sufficient to justify an automatic, unilateral imposition of random testing, when it carries disciplinary consequences.

In today’s 6 to 3 decision, the Supreme Court confirms that if the employer decides to proceed unilaterally without negotiating with the union, it must show reasonable cause before making workers subject to potential discipline.

In essence this ruling is about the importance of collective bargaining and how it balances interests.  This case involves balancing legitimate safety concerns and privacy interests of workers.  Collective bargaining has not kept employers from introducing comprehensive drug and alcohol policies in dangerous workplaces. Rather, it has served to ensure that these policies are fairly administered and  to balance interests in such a way that incursion into the rights of employees should be negotiated with the union.


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